In section two of the Horticultural Produce (Sales on Commission) Act, 1926 (under which an owner or consignor has ten days in which to require the salesman to produce books and other documents for inspection), for the words "ten days" there shall be substituted the words "one month".—[Mr. Willey.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Willey
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
The Runciman Committee devoted some attention to the practices of salesmen. It made several recommendations, two of which would involve legislation. Quite a long time ago the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and I asked the then Minister of Agriculture about the 409 Government's attitude towards the conclusions and recommendations of the Runciman Committee. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he now is, replied:The Government also accept the recommendation that certain changes should be made in the Horticultural Produce (Sales on Commission) Act, 1926, for the better protection of producers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1957, c. 277.]5.15 p.m.
We were surprised, therefore, when we saw the Bill to find that the Government made no proposal to implement these recommendations of the Runciman Committee. That was an omission which we sought to remedy in Standing Committee. We put down two new Clauses to carry out these recommendations. We expected them to be warmly and sympathetically received by the Government, but I was surprised to be assailed by the Parliamentary Secretary.
In Standing Committee we moved a new Clause in these terms, and not thrice but on four occasions the Parliamentary Secretary turned me down. It was only my persistence in argument that shook the Parliamentary Secretary to the extent of saying:Skilful as the hon. Member's arguments have been, they have not converted me, but in view of his persistence I certainly agree to look at the matter with my right hon. Friend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 11th February, 1960; c. 366.]One of the points to which I called the hon. Gentleman's attention, and which the Runciman Committee made, was that the law as it stands tends to aggravate the relations between salesman and producer. What we are now trying to do is to extend the time within which a merchant is required to produce his books for inspection. The Runciman Committee recommended that the time ought to be extended to a month.
As I emphasised in Committee, one of the reasons why the Runciman Committee made that recommendations was that it is far better to afford a longer period of time for this matter to be dealt with without demanding an inspection of the books and that if we afford a longer time we have better relations between salesman and producer and, if necessary, the trade organisations can make interventions.
I only hope that, having had time for mature and careful reflection, the Gov 410 ernment will now be able to take this opportunity of implementing this recommendation of the Runciman Committee. We have not had the courage to put down bath recommendations of the Runciman Committee because we realise that in Committee these aggravated the Government to adamant opposition to the proposals which over two years ago they themselves had accepted. We hope that by confining our attentions to this simple amendment of the law, which, as far as I know, is desired by both salesmen and producers, we shall at any rate achieve some partial success and that the Government will now feel disposed to accept this Clause designed to implement the recommendation of the Runciman Committee.
§ Mr. Godber
Once more I have listened with care to what the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has said on this subject. It is perfectly true that in Committee he pressed me very hard indeed. The hon. Gentleman tends to press me on a number of points and I have to satisfy myself absolutely before I fall for his flatteries or his invitations.
In Standing Committee I felt that while the hon. Gentleman had, perhaps, a strong case here, it was difficult to concentrate one's mind entirely on it by reason of the fact that there were one or two other new Clauses hanging about as well. The hon. Gentleman has been very wise in putting down the one Clause and concentrating the Government's attention on this one point.
I would say, as I said in Standing Committee, that this is certainly a matter with which, in general, we agree. I indicated in Committee that we were somewhat nervous about implementing detailed points of this nature in a Bill which was related to somewhat different issues. But I must say that the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends impressed me very much, and it was for that reason that eventually, under pressure from the hon. Gentleman, I agreed to take it back to my right hon. Friend so that we could look at it again. On reconsideration of the matter, with that reasonableness which the hon. Gentleman would expect from this Government, we decided that it was right and proper to accept this new Clause.
411 I am happy to tell the House that we can accept the new Clause without impinging in any way on other matters. Further, we can accept it in exactly the same wording as it is tabled. Indeed, I can detect no single flaw in its drafting. That is a remarkable achievement, on which I congratulate those responsible. Therefore, I am very happy to accede at this late stage to the hon. Gentleman's pressure, and I hope that the fact that I have done so after his pressure will make it more sweet.
§ Mr. Peart
The Parliamentary Secretary said that he hopes his acceptance will make it more sweet. He has painted a glowing picture of the reasonableness of the Government, but they have been reasonable only because we pressed them in Committee. We pointed out that the Runciman Committee had recommended that producers should be protected from the malpractices of certain salesmen. Although the majority of salesmen who engage in the marketing of horticultural produce are honest and good people, there are instances where malpractices exist. The Runciman Committee recommended in paragraph 464:We think it reasonable that the period within which a grower must decide whether or not to demand an inspection should be longer than ten days, and we recommend that it be extended to one month.Having argued this in Committee, we are very glad that our point of view has been accepted. We are pleased that the Government accept our constructive approach, and it is sweet to us. I hope that the Minister will continue to approach the Bill in that constructive light. We accept his assurances.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.